If you’ve seen Dreamgirls, you know one of the 2006 musical-turned-film’s biggest highlights is watching Jennifer Hudson bring down the house with her powerful, soulful rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.”
Hudson won an Oscar for her portrayal of Effie White — the lead singer of 1960s girl group The Dream-ettes who finds herself pushed aside romantically and professionally as the trio’s fame grows.
In this exclusive clip of her audition for the film, included on the new special-edition Dreamgirls Blu-ray set, Hudson makes it obvious why she won the role — delivering a gripping performance with only her voice and simple piano accompaniment.
The footage is a brief sample of Hudson’s screen test, and she tells EW that she remembers the experience being much longer. “I felt like that whole audition lasted a good six hours” she says.
Dreamgirls marked Hudson’s feature film debut and the entire process was new to her. “I didn’t even know what a screen test was at the time,” she says. “I was told to know the song inside and out, because for my original audition I didn’t have all the sheet music so I didn’t know the song all the way through.”
“I felt like I sang that song for about six hours straight,” she remembers, “and I remember them saying, ‘her voice was the only voice that sustained all the way through.'” Hudson recalls that in addition to singing “And I Am Telling You,” she was asked to read lines, specifically the entirety of the “It’s All Over” scene leading up to her big number.
When Hudson auditioned for the role of Effie, she was fresh off a seventh-place finish on American Idol. It was her performances on the reality singing competition that first attracted the attention of casting directors. “When I was on American Idol, I would see articles saying ‘Jennifer Hudson for Effie White,'” she remembers. “And I was like ‘Who’s Effie White?’ I didn’t even know who Effie White was. I knew the music, but never the storyline or the character.”
Hudson says that although she was unfamiliar with the plot of Dreamgirls, she knew and loved to perform the music from the show. “I’ve always been a big fan of Jennifer Holliday, who originated the role of Effie White on Broadway. I always followed her music and that’s why I knew of the music from the play, but I didn’t know the story. And I would sing it all the time,” she says.
And while that song is a showstopper, it was a different track that Hudson believes helped get her an audition. “The week that I sang ‘Weekend in New England’ [on American Idol] and Barry Manilow was the guest mentor on the show, he arranged my ‘Weekend in New England’ similar to ‘And I Am Telling You,’ with the same musical breaks and big notes and stuff like that because I reminded him so much of Effie,” she says. “I feel like that was my pre-audition for the role, which had people buzzing about Jennifer Hudson for Effie White.”
From that screen test to making the film, Hudson says, “all of it was just a whole new experience for me.” Going into it, she had no idea her role would carry the brunt of the emotional moments in the film and how it would change her life. “I felt as if I’m good because no one’s looking for me,” she remembers. “You got all these megastars in it from Eddie Murphy, Danny Glover, Beyoncé Knowles, and Jamie Foxx — no one’s thinking about me. So I was able to do my work without having any pressure.”
Though she didn’t have the trappings of costumes, lights, or costars, Hudson’s audition performance is riveting. For her, the audition and filming the number were very different experiences. “I’m the type of actress or person, I like to live in the moment,” she says. She adds that while she sang live on set, they were taping to playback which required her to match her performance to the tape. “We were shooting the scene at the beginning and [director] Bill Condon was like, ‘you’re crying a little too much, can you pull it back?’ Because on the playback I’m not necessarily giving that level of emotion so I had to find a way to match that emotion.”
“And I Am Telling You” has now become a signature song for Hudson — she sings it often at her concerts. Recently, after making headlines for throwing shoes at contestants she loved as a judge on The Voice, she found herself at the receiving end of flying footwear while performing the Dreamgirls number.
Hudson has described the shoe throwing as a compliment, so we asked her if we should throw shoes at our television when we’re watching her audition video or the new Dreamgirls Blu-ray. “Yeah, but make sure you protect the television because don’t charge me if you break the TV,” she jokes.
The new Dreamgirls special edition, which is packed with more bonus features and an extended director’s cut, is available on Blu-ray and digital HD beginning Tuesday.